Duyi Han: Investigating Psychological Depth Through a Perceptual "artBnB" Apartment Stephanie Dean July 22, 2021 “I see collectible design objects as artifacts or devices that record human cultural history. They are a contemporary continuation of the historic cultural objects you see in a museum.” – Duyi Han All images courtesy of Atelier Duyi Han View Duyi Han’s showroom, including the “Ordinance of the Subconscious Treatment” collection With a practice comprised of both the physical and the digital, artist and designer Duyi Han uses his research-based approach to explore aesthetics and perceptual experience. Currently based in Shanghai, China, Han’s work evokes a sensorial reaction for the viewer, drawing on familiar aesthetics or cultural trends to create a connection between object and feeling. Bold colours, inviting architectural spaces, and references to the evolution of design permeate the digital aspect of his practice. In his physical work, these qualities are made material with colour, pattern, and form – alongside dedicated craftsmanship – inspiring an emotional connection and tactile interaction. In his latest collection, “Ordinance of the Subconscious Treatment”, Han investigates the psychological depth of a perceptual environment through the creation of a full “artBnB” apartment. The experimental project aligns architectural and furniture design with the themes of cultural heritage and mental health, producing an immersive, sensorial experience for audiences. The furniture collection – including chairs, sofas, floor lamps, side tables, and drawer cabinet towers – draws on classical Chinese forms and traditional embroidery designs, shifting the latter to depict molecular chemical structures and statements related to mental and brain health. For example, Han’s “Oxytocin” Drawer Cabinet and “Dopamine” Floor Lamp feature the stylised chemical structures of their respective hormones alongside statements such as “recognition is the first step”, “my doctors can’t explain my symptoms or my pain”, and “be my reliever cause I don’t self medicate”. Together, the pieces visualise Han’s exploration of aesthetic evolution while encouraging contemplation on contemporary society and our beliefs surrounding mental health and well-being. Your practice spans both physical and digital media, from full environments to collectible objects. What inspired you to explore this intersection of design? Coming from an architectural background, I develop my work through digital models and renderings. To me, my medium is the perceptual environment, whether digital or physical. This includes both the space and the objects inside the space. My design process is about how to curate everything in the rendered image. This is similar to how the Old Masters constructed their paintings. Not just what things are included in the image, but also the graphic and pictoral quality of the image itself. In some cases, like in my lastest collection, I turn digital design into physical reality. In this process, I combine the strength of digital design with the quality of tactile material and physical interaction. Top, L-R: “Dopamine” Floor Lamp & “Vitamin D” Sofa // Bottom: “Oxytocin” Drawer Cabinet Can you describe your design philosophy and approach to collectible design? I’m interested in the evolution process of aesthetic and cultural trends. I analyze the elements in a space, an object, or an image that evoke feelings. For example, the form of historic religious architecture and objects often evokes awe, respect, and some fear. This is an aesthetic element relating to authority and power. In my latest collection, I include the form of Chinese religious furniture in order to make the theme of mental health feel authoritative and powerful. I see collectible design objects as artifacts or devices that record human cultural history. They are a contemporary continuation of the historic cultural objects you see in a museum. These design objects are also the physical items coming out of my “digital paintings”. They can exist in a home independently, but they always are a part of a larger work. DSC08816 - edited DSC08799 copy - edited In your latest collection, “Ordinance of the Subconscious Treatment”, product design comes together with architectural design. What was your aim for this collection and why have you decided to explore “mental health and contemporary Chinese-ness” through it? I wanted to explore the psychological depth of a perceptual environment. A work that both relates to local cultural heritage and has contemporary relevance. The project is built in the region around Shanghai, where you find some of the finest classical cultural heritage. Temples and gardens are exquisitely beautiful. Silk embroidery craft is very meticulous. Both are referenced in a contemporary way. I arranged the apartment rooms as a series of mental spaces. The contemporary rooms evoke an experience that feels like visiting mythological Chinese shrines and rock gardens. The theme of mental health reflects the direction of a contemporary belief of the human society. In history, Chinese furniture in Buddhist and Taoist temples and other ceremonial contexts often use silk fabric embroidered with beautiful symbols and text that preached historic religious and folk beliefs in relieving pain and pursuing happiness. My collection updates the decorative content and reflects a contemporary belief in the modern scientific side of mental health. So, you see the pieces are embroidered with molecular geometries like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, etc., and mental health-related text. I think promoting mental health awareness is hugely important. I grew up in a difficult environment that easily causes emotional trauma because of not actively encouraging therapy and mental health education. My project presents mental health using a historic device of religious preach that is actually also reminiscent of the ubiquitous use of red-letter slogans in modern China. “[For ‘Ordinance of the Subconscious Treatment’] I wanted the rooms and the furniture pieces to – in a way – confront, intimidate, confuse, hypnotize, provoke, embrace, soothe, or heal the audience.” Bottom, L-R: “Withdrawal-Can-Be” Chair & “No-One-Should” Chair How do you envision audiences reacting to or engaging with this collection and space? I wanted the rooms and the furniture pieces to – in a way – confront, intimidate, confuse, hypnotize, provoke, embrace, soothe, or heal the audience. Maybe it is through unexpected encounters when you walk between the randomly grown walls. Maybe it is the text “excuse the background noise” on the Melatonin bedside table reminding you to sleep well. Maybe it is your recognition of the chemical symbols that unconsciously remind you to take care of yourself every day. I added soft foam beneath all the furniture surfaces I can, including the top surfaces of the side tables, so that they feel more dreamy and therapeutic. “Serotonin-Sertraline” Floor Lamp The “If You Feel Something, Say Something” and “The Saints Wear White” projects from 2020 comment on COVID-19 and its effects on society, has the pandemic altered how you conceive of design projects? If so, how? The therapeutic quality of design is important. When I worked on a hospital project at an architectural firm a few years ago, I saw how a patient room with or without a view to a green garden could change the patient’s treatment efficacy. The pandemic and the emotional burden it has caused remind us of taking care of our feelings. I think the pandemic has highlighted the effect of therapeutic art and it causes this branch of art and design to grow stronger. It makes me more convinced to and dedicated in the kind of feeling-evoking work that I do. “The Saints Wear White”, February 2020 Research and experimentation form a basis for your work, what do you hope to explore further in the coming year? I hope to commit some time to research, into the neurological mechanism between perception and emotion, and aesthetic elements in non-Western and non-Chinese cultures. Top, L-R: “No-One-Should” Chair, “Melatonin” Side Table (Are You on Mute), & “Withdrawal-Can-Be” Chair // Bottom: “Melatonin” Side Table (Excuse the Background Noise) To stay up to date on the release of collections, interviews, and news on global contemporary design, sign up to our newsletter below. Email Bio Duyi Han (1994) is an artist and designer who creates digital and physical environments and objects as perceptual experiences that evoke rich feelings of beauty. His work is based on extensive research on the evolution process of design and aesthetics, with a focus on the “ingredients of beauty” as they relate to society, culture, history, geography, and biology. Using these “ingredients of beauty,” Duyi Han’s experimental practice operates beyond the limitation of fixed style and time period, creating poetic and moving work that is able to respond to diverse time and cultural contexts. His past work has appeared on numerous international platforms, from Vogue to American National Academy of Sciences. Duyi Han holds a B. Arch (2019) from Cornell University in New York and has worked at the architecture office Herzog & de Meuron in Basel, Switzerland.